Two stars, one classic moment
Ripken, Gwynn make midsummer stage a retirement sendoff; 'Trying to soak everything in'; O's Iron Man passes B. Robinson in finale
Star treatment: Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn meet media during news conference for their All-Star Game swan songs. (Sun photo by Elizabeth Malby / July 10, 2001)
The 72nd Baseball All-Star Game welcomed Ripken for the 19th and final time, as commissioner Bud Selig feted both retiring players during an afternoon news conference at Safeco Field.
"I'm just trying to soak everything in," Ripken said. "I don't want to miss anything. You keep your eyes open to more things. You see the details. You see the little things most clearly."
Accompanied by his son, Ryan, Ripken arrived at the park early and stayed late. Having announced his retirement June 19, Ripken can see his career's end. He now savors every second of every day, especially one in which he walked into an All-Star clubhouse as a player for the final season.
"I've never had the experience of seeing a locker room for this event wake up," he said. "You start to see it come alive. It has a lot of energy and eventually becomes mass hysteria. That was kind of cool. There's a certain excitement you're looking forward to."
Selig presented both players with $100,000 checks to benefit their favorite organizations. For Ripken, it was his youth baseball initiative, while Gwynn's was a foundation chaired by him and his wife.
Ripken, the Iron Man, starts tonight at third base for the American League, breaking Brooks Robinson's league record for most All-Star appearances. Gwynn, the eight-time batting champion, will sit on the National League bench as an honorary member. Each embraces the moment as a late, brilliant flash within an increasingly finite career.
"It's special. That's one of the special things about the All-Star Game. They put baseball back on the map," said Oakland Athletics first baseman Jason Giambi.
Ripken's significance to baseball remains a central thread running through tonight's game. Questions about his statistics are muted because of his career's meaning.
Many of Ripken's AL teammates reflected on his impact. Drawing his most stirring memory, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter cited The Streak, but then thought again.
"I think just seeing him out there at shortstop, because that's something you hadn't seen before - a guy that tall [6 feet 4]," Jeter said. "He helped make it an offensive position. It used to be a shortstop hit .240 and played great defense. I remember growing up playing shortstop. People would say, 'You're too tall to play shortstop.' And I'd say, 'But what about Cal Ripken?' "
Seattle Mariners reliever and Catonsville native Jeff Nelson will be making his first All-Star appearance. He's a participant in pickup basketball games at Ripken's Reisterstown gym.
"To be here for this is particularly special," Nelson said. "I've waited a long time to get here, and to be here when Cal plays his last All-Star Game is something you'll always remember."
"I think all of us who have played the game would have loved to be in the situation that Cal was in," said Gwynn, who played as many as 160 games in a season only once. "It's more than just going to work. You've got to have some passion for what you do. Him playing all those games tells me he loves what he does. He takes a lot of pride in it. There's nothing wrong with that."
"Cal is a good friend of mine, so I definitely think he should be here, no doubt about it," said former Minnesota Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett. "He meant so much to the game. I think what you saw Cal Ripken do in our lives you'll never see again. ... I'm just honored to be his friend."
Ripken will bat eighth, hitting behind Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez and ahead of Texas Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez. Ripken's .240 average, four home runs and 28 RBIs might suggest a lower spot in the order. Respect for his standing dictates otherwise.
"Joe told me he wanted to hit me ninth because he didn't want to put Cal Ripken ninth," Rodriguez said. "That's OK. I'm just happy to be in there."
So was Ripken.
Ripken and his family didn't arrive in Seattle until 9:30 a.m. local time. After first driving to Dulles International Airport to learn that their flight had been canceled, they then hurried to Baltimore-Washington International and found seats on a 7 a.m. nonstop. Ripken literally hit the ground running. After breakfast, Ripken changed into workout clothes, attended an instructional seminar held by his brother, jogged across the street to prepare for batting practice, then began an interview tour that took him to four different rooms on two floors of Safeco Field.